By Cari Hachmann/ The Portland Observer
Abandoned, beggared, bum, derelict, druggie, down-and-out, estranged, forlorn, forsaken, homeless, houseless, needy, outcast, poor, uncared-for, unwelcome, squatter, vagabond, vagrant, wanderer.
The words our society gives a person without a place to live can be stark and sometimes offensive, but one man who goes by the name Ibrahim Mubarak is a prophet of sorts among street people by arguing there is only one description for the people he helps.
“We are all human,” says Ibrahim Mubarak.
Wearing a hat and sunglasses and dressed in a long Islamic robe with a drawstring leather bag on his back, Mubarak describes his mission as “Fighting for human rights to shelter, food, sleep, and clothing.”
Martin Luther King Jr. would have been inspired. For the late civil rights leader who we celebrate in a national holiday on Jan. 21, the world of poverty and inadequate housing was closely related to the challenges of racism.
“Like a monstrous octopus, poverty spreads its nagging, prehensile tentacles into hamlets and villages all over our world,” King said. “Two-thirds of the people of the world go to bed hungry tonight. They are ill-housed; they are ill-nourished; they are shabbily clad.”
Mubarak knows the issues of not having a place to call home firsthand. He knows what it’s like to be kicked off a step by a policeman’s boot. He knows what it’s like to not to be able to find a place to rest; to be wet, cold, sleepy, hungry, grouchy… to be without a house.
Mubarak says he was in a “bad place” when he first took to the streets 25 years ago. A stressful divorce quickly turned his life upside down. He fell into isolation and drugs. He lost touch with his family, his wife, his home, and his job working as an Aerosmith technician. “Nobody could help me,” he said.
With no purpose or direction, Mubarak says he threw darts at cities pinned on a dartboard to choose his next destination. In each city he visited, he’d flood businesses with his resume to find work. His housing could not be sustained, leaving him to pack his few belongings and move to the streets.
Mubarak trained himself to depend on no one but himself. He saved money until he skipped on to the next city. Eventually, Mubarak landed here and found a reason to stay.
In Portland, a city Mubarak calls “a hub for travelers;” the street-savvy nomad began listening to the problems of people living on the streets.
The homeless were struggling to get by with high rents, overcrowded shelters, and nowhere to legally sleep or camp. There were few, if any public toilets, or shelters that allowed children.
“It costs $700 a month for an apartment in Portland. What if you work at McDonalds?” said Mubarak. “Isn’t it a human right to relieve yourself?” he continued. “Where are you going to go? You get caught going outside three times and you’re a registered sex offender.”
As witness to the mistreatment of homeless people in Portland, Mubarak became motivated to act. “We need help,” he recalls thinking, “We need to help the homeless.”
He began fighting for the basic rights that all humans are entitled to, whether they can afford to live in a house or not. “These are humans here,” he said. “We want to be treated like everybody else.”
Mubarak began to speak out and educate. He started using the word houseless instead of homeless.
“Saying we are without a home is like saying we are without a heart,” he said.
Mubarak started Right 2 Survive, an advocacy group to teach people without housing that they have constitutional and civil rights. From that, rose Right 2 Dream Too, a permanent camp for the temporarily houseless to live.
Using a vacant lot on the corner of Northwest Fourth Avenue and Burnside Street, Mubarak and Right 2 Dream Too volunteers provide food, and a warm, sheltered place for up to 90 people a day to rest. In a year and 2 month span since its opening, more than 2,000 people have been served.
“People need two basic needs,” said Mubarak, “Sleep and food. Once they have those, there’s no excuse not to be productive.” With limited resources, the organization helps people find work and housing.
At least 30 people have found housing in the last year, said Mubarak, who has lived indoors for two years now, but spends many of his days helping run the Right 2 Dream Too camp.
“I see new people walking on the streets daily,” said Mubarak, “They are afraid.”
People without housing and squatters are always at the bottom, said Mubarak. “We must carry a lot on our shoulders. People look as the homeless as failures. If you’re not providing to the capitalistic system you’re called a waste, stereotyped as rapists, no-goods, and drug addicts.”
“That’s not true,” he said.
Mubarak hopes to change the minds of the houseless and those who have a home. The American Dream doesn’t pan out for everyone; he said, but everyone has the right to dream.
“If you reach for the stars and land on the moon, you’re not a failure,” he said. “Just because you’re not in a house, you’re not a failure. Failure is not seeing, low aim is.”
Mubarak is a resource for the people walking in the vicious circle of the city. He offers them a way out.
“Homelessness may not be the place for you,” he says, “I can show you a different way, but you have to help yourself,” he says. “Be better than yourself. Do it for yourself.”